Tyler Henley: "Psycho T" on the Diamond

As the Florida State League playoffs are underway, Dustin Mattison caught up with Palm Beach centerfielder Tyler Henley in this exclusive Birdhouse interview.

In the eighth round of the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the St. Louis Cardinals selected Rice University's Tyler Henley.  The Alabama native was coming off a season in which he hit .313/.429/.458 for a highly-touted Owls team that would finish third in the nation.  A hard-nosed player, Henley brings a football mentality to the baseball diamond. 

 

Henley and the Cardinals agreed to a reported $150,000 signing bonus before he made his professional debut with Batavia.  In 57 at bats, he hit .281 with a very impressive .403 on base percentage.  The New York-Penn League would be a short stop for Henley as the organization promoted him to the Quad Cities after only 18 games.  Henley struggled against the more advanced pitching of the Midwest League but did show more power than he did for the Muckdogs.  In 32 at-bats, he hit two home runs and slugged .406.

 

Henley began the 2008 season in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.   Someone must have forgotten to tell Henley that it is a league that plays to the pitcher's favor.  The 5-foot-10 outfielder started the season by hitting .313 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 96 at-bats.   On May 2, Henley's season was interrupted when he was hit in the hand and suffered a broken finger.  The injury resulted in him missing nearly two months of development time.  In the meanwhile, he was named a Florida State League Mid-season All-Star.  

 

After struggling with his timing in July, Henley is putting things together in time for the post-season.  During the month of August, he hit .299/.372/.458 with three home runs and 19 RBIs. 

 

A terrific athlete, he was a two-sport star as a prep.  As a running back, Henley rushed for 1700 yards as a senior at Coffeyville High School. 

 

Recently, I was able to catch up with the 22-year-old to talk about his injury, his playing style, and his plans for the off-season. 

 

 

Dustin Mattison: How's your hand?

Tyler Henley: My finger has made a full recovery.  It has made for a crazy story and, oddly enough, has actually helped me.  The finger (my middle finger on my throwing hand) that was hit by the pitch and was nearly severed is now a little more than a millimeter shorter than it was before.  That makes the middle and index fingers on my throwing hand closer to the same length, which has taken some natural tail out of my throws, making them more accurate.  I would never want to do it again to gain accuracy, but since it happened I'll take it.

DM: How disappointing was it for you to lose time to injury after getting off to great start?

TH: It was really disappointing.  I am such a rhythm player and I was able to find a pretty good groove early on in the season and the injury threw a wrench in there.  The toughest part was coming back and trying to regain that tempo.  It took a while, but I think I'm pretty much back to where I was.  Also, I'm planning to play some fall or winter ball this off-season to make up those lost at-bats and make sure I get a full season under my belt.

DM: Describe your game to me.  I have seen Lenny Dykstra comparisons.  Is that a fair assessment?

TH: I've never really thought about an overall game plan for myself, but if I had to I would say it would be "play hard all the time." I guess in that sense a reference to Lenny Dykstra would be fair.  I just hope I can acquire a nickname as cool as "Nails."  So far the only one I have been given is "Psycho T".  Daniel Descalso gave me that one.  It was first spoken after I decided to run over the catcher in an instructional league game.  For those that are unfamiliar with instructional league, it was basically a practice game.  I suffered a concussion and crushed two of my teeth.  Although the catcher hung on to the ball and I was out, I have to say I won that battle because I went back out to the field for the next three outs.  The catcher came right out of the game, probably because he didn't think anybody was crazy enough to run him over in instructs.

DM: You had a very successful career at Rice.  After a huge 2006, expectations were high going into 2007.  It's safe to say your season didn't start the way you wanted it to.  Was it that you just put too much pressure on yourself?

TH: The whole 2007 season for me was an uphill struggle.  I didn't get off to a bad start but I just could never really find a groove.  I don't think it had much to do with putting too much pressure on myself but more with some nagging health issues.  It was never anything real serious; after all, I only missed one game all three years at Rice.  It was always something just enough for me to stay in the lineup but really hurt my performance, like a stomach bug or an eye infection. The eye infection didn't allow me to wear my contacts for two weeks and hitting blind for that period of time was no picnic.

DM: Tell me about draft day 2007.

TH: Draft day 2007 was great, although it was not as great as the day I signed and truly fulfilled my dream of becoming a professional athlete.  Draft day was a lot of fun because it was not only a special day for me but so many of my teammates as well.  It was great to be able to celebrate as a team as so many of us fulfilled a dream of playing at the next level.  (Writer's note: Rice teammates Joe Savery, Brian Friday, Cole St. Clair, Danny Lehmann, Bobby Bramhall, Adam Zornes, Jonathan Runnels, Chris Kelley, Ryne Tucker, Scott Lonergan, Chad Lembeck, Travis Reagan, and Kyle Gunderson were all drafted in 2007.)

DM: You were drafted in 2006 by the Houston Astros.  How disappointing was it that you couldn't get a deal done?

As nice as it would have been to sign with the Astros, it was great to get one more year of school under my belt and now I'm with the Cardinals, which is a perfect fit for me.  I don't have any complaints.

DM: What did you know about the Cardinals' organization before they drafted you?


TH: Before they drafted me I hardly knew anything, but after they drafted me I was assured they were a quality organization and my experience has proven that to be correct.

DM: What's it like to get to play with two of your Rice teammates, Eddie Degerman and Aaron Luna?

TH: It has been great.  It is always nice to see familiar faces in the clubhouse.  It makes a strange place just that much more comfortable.  It is always fun to have someone there that knows where you came from; you can share old college stories and have someone who can really relate.  That is especially important when you're telling people about the face of college baseball, Coach Graham.

DM: Aaron Luna was just drafted this past June.  Did you get a chance to talk to him and tell him about the organization before he signed with the Cardinals?


TH: I did a little, but not too much.  I wanted to give him his space as he worked out his deal, as I did not want to interfere with his choice. That is a personal family decision so I tried to steer clear if possible.

DM: Rice has a fantastic baseball tradition.  Tell me what being a Rice Owl is all about.

TH: Rice baseball is all about a couple of things, Winning, and winning the right way.  Coach Graham and staff wouldn't have it any other way. Rice baseball recruits not only quality ball players but also quality people, so we always have a good time on the field winning ball games and off the field as a team.


DM: Who is the best player that you have had a chance to play with?


TH: I have played with so many good players I don't think I could pick just one overall good player.  If I had to pick out players with specific qualities I could better do that.  Most Tenacious: Eddie Degerman, Best Competitor: Danny Lehman, Best Athlete: either Jordan Dodson or Chad Lembeck, Toughest: Daniel Descalso (he's under the radar tough, fans don't see the bumps and bruises he has riddled all 
over his shins, but nothing will keep him out of the lineup), Fastest: Jim Rapoport, Best hands: Greg Buchanon, Quickest: Brian Friday, Best teammate: Derek Myers. 

DM: Who's the toughest pitcher that you have faced?


TH: Micah Owings, hands down.  I faced him in a Super Regional in 2006 and that is the most dominant a pitching performance I have ever seen. (Writer's note: Owings spun a three-hit shutout while striking out eight to defeat Rice.)

 


DM: If you could pick just one highlight from your career, which one would it be?


TH: I don't know which one will be the better highlight: my home run off Andrew Miller or Scott Kazmir. I guess I will just have to wait to see which has a better career.  It's nice to know that I'm on the right track as far as competing at the big league level.

DM: I have read that you were quite the football player.  Was there a tough choice in deciding which road to go down?

TH: In the end it wasn't, but it started out being the toughest decision I had made in my life.  God has an interesting way of showing you where he wants you.  He made my decision really easy; after I was offered a scholarship to Rice it was pretty much a no-brainer.  I knew my career in football would probably be limited to college, unless I grew four inches and put on forty pounds, but I wasn't going to count on that happening.  I knew I had a better chance of playing professional baseball than football, which was also important to me. It has always been my dream to be a professional athlete.

DM: What team did you root for growing up?   Did you have a favorite player?


TH: Despite my three years at Rice I am still a huge Auburn Tiger fan. That is where my Dad went to school and I grew up in Alabama watching the Tigers play.  So naturally as an Auburn Tiger and a two-sport athlete through high school, my favorite athlete has to be Bo Jackson.

DM: What are your plans for the off-season?


TH: I am planning on playing some winter ball somewhere south of the border.  Like I mentioned before it will be a good opportunity for me to make up for some of those at-bats I missed.  I will take some time off from working out and baseball to let my body heal.  Then I'll put my nose back down and get ready for next season. Probably my favorite part of the off-season is giving hitting lessons.  It is so awesome to see the progression of a kid as he learns the game; it gives me so much satisfaction helping kids in a game that has done so much for me.

DM: When you're not playing baseball, how do you like to spend your free time?

TH: I love movies!  I am what some people would call a "Movie Quoting Johnson."  I have started to enjoy reading.  It is funny how when I was forced to read I hated it, but now that it's not mandatory I enjoy it. My favorite thing to do is spend time with my fiancée.

DM: What do Cardinal fans need to know about you that they may not already know?


TH: I'm currently working on a website to help young baseball players develop their games. When it's finished, I'll be sure to let you know. 

 

I thank Tyler for agreeing to take time out of his preparation for the playoffs to answer some questions.  I wish him the best of luck what is hopefully a long and successful career as a Cardinal. 

 

 

Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at dustin@whiteyball.com.

 

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